Can a Movie be Good? Must it be “a Good Christian Movie”?

J. Michael Finley as Bart Millard from MercyMe in I Can Only Imagine
I Can Only Imagine – A Monumental Song, A Serviceable Movie

Recently on the Podcast we finally got around to discussing The Chosen, at least it’s first season, because both my cohost and I had been inundated with the same question: “Have you seen The Chosen?”. For those who don’t know, The Chosen is a free series portraying a fictionalized adaption of the biblical gospels. Two seasons have been fully funded and released (with a third halfway funded, as of last checking their website) with the intention to release seven seasons in total. Which, probably means they’re intending to cover the book of Acts after Jesus ascends. Who knows.

But, we discussed The Chosen on the Podcast knowing full-well that we’d still get that question, “Have you seen The Chosen?” and now we can officially say, “Yes, check out our episode for our thoughts.”. We mostly discuss the questionable dangers of portraying Jesus in a fashion other than we see in the Gospels (i.e. changing some of his dialogue, reordering certain sequences, or in the third episode of the show, completely fictionalizing an entire segment of Jesus’ life based on human assumption). More importantly, we also discuss how there’s already a wealth of misinformation surrounding the figure of Jesus (or, the second person of the Trinity) thanks to people mostly basing their opinion and experience of Him on white-euro depictions, animated cartoons when they grew up, and almost entirely everything other than what’s merely displayed in the scriptures. It’s a good episode. At least, I think so.

I Can Only Imagine also fits the canon of “Have you seen X?”. I’ve been asked it a few times myself, and my cohost in our most recent episode of the podcast mentions the same thing. And, similarly to The Chosen, it’s followed up with, “It’s really good for a Christian movie/show!”. In fact, visiting I Can Only Imagine’s imdb page shows the same thing: the top review featured on its page is literally titled “A good Christian movie.”, period and all. I guess I get it when considering movies like God’s Not Dead and Samson exist in that same canon, but it’s a phrase that sort of hurts the ears regardless of what we’ve come to expect from Christian film-making.

J. Michael Finley as Bart Millard of MercyMe in I Can Only Imagine playing piano
And, I mean, it’s true. I Can Only Imagine is a fairly decent film.

We sort-of ignore that “Christian movie” curve for this review, although we do bring it up briefly. We ignore it because we’re not the kind of Christians who are too worried about a movie being good or bad, not in a comparative sense, but more-so in a singular quality sense (if that makes sense, lol). We just want a movie to be good, not better than another movie. And, I Can Only Imagine is good, in a way. But, that’s kind of for two reasons:

  1. Because, when we do touch on it briefly in our episode, it is comparatively better than other Christian movies.
  2. But, more importantly, it’s good because it imitates what a movie should be.

During the episode, I go on to say that I Can Only Imagine feels like a movie that’s acting like other movies. Like an actor performs on screen, so to is I Can Only Imagine performing like any other movie should. It’s got its highs, lows, rising action, falling action, 2nd act failure, dramatic climax, etc. But, often the distinguishing factor between what we consider good acting and poor acting is how convincing someone is as their character. I was never quite convinced that I Can Only Imagine was actually what it was, and I always thought to myself, “Yes, this is, in fact, a movie.”

There are parts of this movie that feel authentic, real, and genuine. The core of this movie is the relationship between Bart Millard and his father, considering it’s the onus to which Bart Millard often quotes being the reason for the existence of the song. Or, at least, in part. And, when we learn the story of his abusive father reforming into a good, better man, the movie really works. Part of that is Dennis Quaid who is always a fine performer, and he’s definitely the strongest figure here, but part of that, too, is because this is when the 4th wall truly becomes invisible and I no longer feel like I’m watching a movie. I feel like I’m in the room, the voyeur watching the events take place, witnessing things I shouldn’t, but being shown them for a broader purpose, tone, and theme. You know, movie stuff.

But even then, the core of what draws people in to this movie is only barely embraced. I really feel it falls apart even when this running thread is returned to the fore-front. After Bart Millard and his band, MercyMe, hit a low-point, and he returns home to what really draws out the drama of the film, we’re introduced to another core issue with this movie: over-editing.

Dennis Quaid as Arthur Millard in I Can Only Imagine
It’d be nice to linger on certain emotions throughout the movie, especially the darker, more painful ones.

So much music, so much color-correction, so much imbalance in tone and theming, the second Bart Millard’s father is redeemed in the movie, everything’s honky-dory. Which, if that’s how it happened in real life, that’s very neato-cheato. But, as far as a movie is concerned, drawing out that experience, the pain of reconciliation, the process of forgiveness, and the endurance of persevering in faith; all of that could have been really enjoyable to watch, as well as educational for those who don’t quite understand how it’s even possible to forgive a parent whose beaten you almost the point of death.

But, like I said, “Yes, this is, in fact, a movie.”. I Can Only Imagine still manages to feel reasonably competent despite not quite being as good as I think both my cohost and I were led to believe. Which, again, is fine. Movies are movies are movies. I don’t need them to be great because I don’t wear the typical “Jesus-jersey” that others do when Christian media and properties are released. I’m not a part of the Christian cultural MLM that is, “Buy our product because you’re a part of the team.”. This isn’t a closed market. The Great Commission isn’t beholden to strictly evangelizing through 2 hour movies and people performing on screen. Or, to really simplify what I’m saying: I don’t put all my Christian eggs in one basket. So, whether I Can Only Imagine is good or bad doesn’t really matter to me (and, in most cases, same goes for other Christian movies). I don’t need these to be good. I just need to be good myself (or, persevere in doing so). And thank God for Christ when I’m not good.

At the very least, like The Chosen, now when we’re asked if we’ve seen this movie, we can say, “Yes, go check out our episode for further thoughts.”. Sure, they’ll be surprised when Daniel spends 15 minutes talking about Donda before the episode really starts, but that’s fine. It is a podcast after all.

Want more Christian-influenced media coverage? Subscribe to the Cinematic Doctrine podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app!

Support Cinematic Doctrine Christian Movie Podcast on Patreon

Consider supporting Cinematic Doctrine on Patreon! As a bonus, you’ll gain access to a once-a-month movie poll where you decide a movie we discuss on the podcast, as well as early unedited episodes of the podcast!!

Melvin Benson Cinematic Doctrine Christian Movie Podcast Host

Melvin Benson is the Founder, Editor-In-Chief, and Lead Host of Cinematic Doctrine. He’s written fiction and nonfiction for over a decade with short stories featured on the Creepypasta Wiki and Wattpad. His novelette Ethereal Temptation, a teen drama with a tinge of magical-realism, can be read for free here. His hope is to see King Jesus glorified as far as the east is from the west!

Cinematic Doctrine is available on iTunesSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and other major podcast apps.